Ample proof that the judiciary, represented by the Supreme Court, remains an independent branch of government and not, as feared by critics, totally beholden to the President and the executive branch, is the High Tribunal's en banc ruling this week that the Solicitor General should release documents on the thousands of killings directly attributed to President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.
The ruling directs Solicitor General Jose Calida to submit to the Supreme Court the police reports, copy furnished the petitioners—Center for International Law and the Free Legal Assistance Group—on the more than 20,000 killings since mid-2016 by policemen and suspected vigilantes.
Calida had blocked the release of the documents by invoking national security, claiming that the release of the reports of a big number of killings "may lead to the inference that these are state-sponsored." He also argued that CenterLaw and FLAG were not entitled to the rest of the documents as their cases only cover specific killings in Metro Manila.
According to CenterLaw, however, the release of documents is important to shed light on the killings: "This is an emphatic statement by the highest court of the land that it will not allow the rule of law to be trampled upon in the war on drugs. It is a very important decision."
We agree completely.
The ruling is a welcome development as the Philippine National Police has acknowledged only more than 5,000 alleged drug traffickers and addicts have been killed after they resisted arrest and fought back in legitimate law enforcement operations.
Human rights groups and media have documented more than 20,000 deaths under Oplan Tokhang. These have been classified by police as "deaths under investigation," ostensibly carried out by vigilante groups. Curiously, though, none of the cases appears to have been thoroughly investigated.
What's disturbing is that of the 5,000 drug suspects claimed to have been killed in legitimate police operations, the government has prosecuted only 76 cases.
In other words, the rest of the 5,000 are mere statistics, with their families unable to seek justice in court.
The Commission on Human Rights is correct in pointing out that the Supreme Court ruling is a "reminder to the government to observe the rule of law in the face of rising human rights violations."
Kudos to the members of the Supreme Court for reassuring the citizenry that it upholds accountability, justice and the rule of law in this country.
Pay up, or else...
Where can an additional P22 billion in the form of taxes go these days?
Low-cost housing for the poor, for one. That amount can be used to jumpstart the construction of subsidized housing for those now living along esteros leading to the Pasig River, thus also helping in the ongoing rehabilitation of Manila Bay.
Where it shouldn't go is to the pockets of the hopelessly corrupt and the interminably greedy.
We're talking about the projection of the Department of Finance that the government can collect an estimated P22 billion annually in income taxes from foreign workers, mainly Chinese, employed in the country's booming online gaming industry.
The DOF has created an interagency task force to monitor the number of foreign nationals employed in Philippine offshore gaming operations and compile a list of these workers with the goal of taxing their wages.
This after members of the task force consisting of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. Department of Labor and Employment, Securities and Exchange Commission, Bureau of Immigration, and the various special economic zones, discovered gaps or inconsistencies in the figures they had initially submitted to reconcile their records.
Authorities would like to determine whether POGO workers could possibly exceed 100,000 in number.
A recent news report quoted BIR Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa as saying that an initial list of 64 out of 205 service providers of POGOs showed that they employ a total of 33,000 foreign workers or an average of 515 per service provider.
Hence, with 515 foreign workers employed in about 200 service providers, the government should be collecting income taxes from about 103,000 aliens working here.
The BIR calculates that if foreign workers in POGOs receive an average of 10,000 yuan, equivalent to about $1,500 or P78,000 a month, then an average income tax of 25 percent of their salaries would yield an estimated amount of P18,750 a month that can be collected from each foreign worker—or a total of roughly P22.5 billion a year in foregone income tax revenues. This estimate does not include allowances and fringe benefits that are also taxable.
The government needs all the taxes it can collect from all sources, including foreign workers, to fund vital infrastructure projects and social services like education and health.